Drastic action required to improve A-League crowds

Sydney FC v Adelaide United A-League 26122014
There is one simple change all A-League clubs could make to help entice more spectators through the gate each week


While the 2016-17 A-League campaign started with a record attendance, a lack of tangible improvement in terms of crowd sizes in recent seasons underlines the need for genuine action.

Round 1 saw 61,880 fans watch Sydney FC crush Western Sydney Wanderers 4-0 at ANZ Stadium, breaking the A-League's previous crowd record and giving the new season a real sense of positivity.

But 16 rounds into the season and whatever moves Football Federation Australia (FFA) and the A-League clubs have made in an effort to improve attendances are making - at best - minimal impact.

The average attendance across all teams and venues is 13,018, according to ultimatealeague.com, up from 12,706 in 2015-16 but down compared the A-League's best season of 2007-08, which had an average crowd figure of 15,348.

Assuming the average attendance remains around the 13,000-mark, 2016-17 will be the fifth consecutive season where the average crowd has sat between 12,000 and 14,000 fans.

That is stagnation in anyone's language.

Sydney FC an easy target

Concerns around A-League crowds have come to the fore following Friday night's match involving Sydney FC, with the undefeated leaders enticing just 11,255 spectators through the gates at Allianz Stadium for their 2-0 win over Adelaide United.

At face value Sydney - a successful team in Australia's biggest city - should be able to draw bigger crowds but the issues the Sky Blues face are more or less mirrored by many other A-League clubs.

Milos Ninkovic Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar A-League 30122016

The point needs to be made that there is very little historical evidence to suggest Sydney ought to be averaging much more than the 18,015 they have managed from their eight home matches so far this season.

The Sky Blues have only averaged more than 19,000 in the inaugural A-League season of 2005-06 when they hosted the grand final and 41,689 turned up to watch them lift the 'Toilet Seat'.

The past four seasons have seen Sydney hold a steady crowd average of over 18,000 except for 2015-16 when it dropped to 16,071, while they have also been ranked second behind Melbourne Victory throughout that four-year period.

Sure, the Sydney derby and some of Alessandro Del Piero's early matches have hinted at a greater pool of available fans but the Sky Blues' annual struggle to convert these people into regular attendees indicates that the club may have found their level.

Changes in form, marquee players and match-day experience have seemingly made little difference.

In order to significantly improve both Sydney's crowds in particular and the A-League's in general, FFA and the clubs need a two-pronged approach.

Suitable stadia vital to A-League

Last week's news, which was exclusively revealed by Goal, that FC Tasmania - the proposed A-League club - are in discussions with the Tasmanian state government to build a rectangular stadium was a clear reminder of the importance of appropriate venues for Australian football.

It is understood that FC Tasmania's initial plan was to play at North Hobart Oval if they won a licence for the 2018-19 A-League season, but a new football-specific stadium would effectively take the bid's major weakness and turn it into - arguably - its greatest strength.

There has been a suggestion that FFA will look down on expansion bids that intend to play at oval stadia but the governing body should also start putting pressure on clubs like Sydney, Brisbane Roar and Wellington Phoenix, who are based at venues that are far too large.

The atmosphere at A-League games is arguably the competition's most successful advertising tool but that is lost when over half the seats are empty.

Sydney have averaged larger crowds than the Wanderers in every year of the latter's existence but although Wanderland's atmosphere was universally praised, Allianz Stadium is often criticised.

Western Sydney Wanderers v Guangzhou Evergrande AFC Champions League 04032015

Based on the past five years, the Sky Blues would benefit greatly from a new stadium with an approximate capacity of 30,000 similar to the one being planned in Western Sydney.

FFA and A-League clubs need to make suitably sized, football-specific venues a priority but while they play that long game, there is a major short-term change that could also significantly impact crowd numbers.

The A-League is too expensive

Yet again this Australian summer has seen the A-League unflatteringly compared to cricket's Big Bash League (BBL) in terms of crowds, with the Twenty20 competition set to easily beat the A-League's average attendance for the sixth straight year.

Renegades v Stars BBL 01012017

While the marketing impact of free-to-air coverage on a major commercial broadcaster must be respected, there is a simple factor where the BBL is smashing the A-League out of the park - A-League tickets cost too much.

The BBL's uniform ticket prices are significantly cheaper than the A-League average with adults able to get into the cricket for as little as $20, while a child's ticket costs just $5.

In the A-League, the cheapest average ticket costs an adult $26.46 and a child $12.03.

With the BBL - the A-League's major summer competitor - averaging attendances more than double those you see at the football and clubs struggling to fill their stadiums, how can these prices be justified?

A-League clubs are justifiably trying to balance the books and ticket sales play an important role but there is little doubt that increasing the competition's seasonal crowd average to somewhere around 20,000 would lead to greater revenue in terms of sponsorship and merchandise sales.

It would be a risk but a shrewd one if FFA and the clubs agreed to reduce ticket prices across the board.